The Power Of The Tweak
A ski Boot is a ski boot is a ski boot right? Yes and no. The basic concept has been evolving year after year and depending on the owner, many boots have often taken on multiple levels of complexity. The purpose of this piece is to explore the various components inside my ski boots and explain not only what each one does but to maybe empower you by enlightening you to "the power of the tweak".
My current setup is a combination of tweaks. The ski boot shell and liner are into their 4th season which is a bit of a record in terms of time for both as I usually ski 100 days or more per season other than for last year. The shell is the 130 Flex Lange RX with 2 rivets on the back. The liner is the Surefoot 3rd Generation custom foamed liner with the therm-ic toe warmers built into the upper toe box. I can say that the liners have held their original shape and have not packed out a bit. The boot warmers and batteries have also performed flawlessly to date and I have them on everyday except for the Spring skiing.
Going from right to left in the photo, I have done a recent tweak by adding a 5 mil heel lifter (white wedge). The purpose of this is to increase my fore/aft ramp angle. I have two anatomical anomalies known as a scoliosis and a lordosis and have been managing/dealing with them forever. This year especially, I've realized that my normal range of movement and ability to flex, especially to release at transition has become less and less. By adding the wedges, it has made it easier to balance and work the joints normally even though I have a reduced ROM. Again, a little tweak goes a long way.
The second piece of paraphernalia is the boot board. While taking my fore/aft measurements, the technician, Bill at Alpine Pro noticed that my boot board was off by .5 degrees of flat on the lateral plane. He subsequently ground them down to zero on both boards thus decreasing my lateral canting by a half degree from 2.0 down to 1.5 degrees. The fore/aft is really important as explained in the following excerpt from beckmanning.com. As with medial/lateral support of the foot, the body is sensitive to minute increments of ramp adjustment. When you get it right, the skier will default to bearing weight along the whole length of the foot, will be able to load/unload the fore-body of the ski at will and with very little effort, and will also be able to pressure the ski throughout a turn via flexion and extension of the legs. (And this without large compensatory movements of the torso.) The takeaway here is "getting it right" is a lot of fun if you're inclined to and patient with the power of the tweak.
Moving across to the third item, this is an ultra thin carbon fiber insole with a transverse arch assist. The purpose of this is to make the standing surface stiffer, an upgrade to the boot board and the 'built in bump' allows you to engage the transverse arch with more control. This helps your ability to articulate on both the fore/aft and lateral planes. You can pull these out in the summer and use them in your runners as well.
The fourth item is the venerable foot bed. This particular one is now about 5 seasons old and I made it myself when I attended the Harald Harb Boot Alignment Workshop in Colorado. To my surprise, they are still working quite well and are likely the main reason why the boots and liners have held up this long. The foot bed can solve various critical issues related to keeping you balanced and in a functional position to not only articulate the foot and ankle properly for control of the ski but also assist in absorbing the tremendous pressures that you work with while carving high end turns. Other than maintenance on the surfaces, they are unaltered and still like new.
The final item is the CARV insert. This one is brand new and is actually my 3rd set as I was an early adopter and assisted the design team with feedback on my impressions as they developed the product into what you can buy today. As a skier, there are certain aspects of skiing that you need to become proficient at in order to ski well. What Jamie Grant and his team have done is make a device that any of us who are so inclined can use to measure our progress. For the first time, you can have the metrics related to balance, edging, fore/art and rotary fed back to you instantaneously while you ski, or studied after a day of skiing.
A tweak that you can't see from this picture is the canting/alignment setup that I have on the soles of my boots. Canting is done after all the rest of the system is in place and you have a 'fit' that you can live in all day and all night if necessary (for those nights when you're out partying in your ski boots). To find out if you need lateral canting, you start by being measured by a qualified boot technician to see if you are standing flat in your boots or are biased to the inside or outside in any way. If you've read "The Better Balance Story" page on the web site, for most people it is imperative to have the static shop measurements tested on snow to verify that there aren't 'other factors' in play that will keep you out of balance even though you measure "flat" in the shop.
What is alignment? Click through on this link to Jay Petersen's excellent website Skiersynergy.com. Jay has it all spelled out there in the greatest of detail.
I first wore cants in 1971 and have been tweaking the degree of canting ever since. Knock on wood, I've never had knee discomfort of any kind which I attribute to having enjoyed near perfect alignment for all these years. I still have the original set of cants that in those days, were placed under the bindings. My first pair were 4 degrees FSI, fat side inside. Due to tweaks here and there over the years, I have now pared them down to 1.5 degrees and of course, for many seasons now, the canting is built right into the boot sole.
Canting for alignment is like eye glasses for vision, you either need them or you don't. Like the time leading up to getting a prescription and eye glasses, people are most often in denial and believe that it's the font size or the light that makes it hard to read or when you struggle to focus long distance, must be the light. In skiing people learn to 'adapt' to the lack of balance and awkwardness and simply try throwing more technique at the problem. Of course as we age, our feet tend to get flatter and longer and we need to be aware of this and to be always on the look for the next tweak to maintain the status quo.
Hopefully, you've enjoyed the tour of my boot set up. It has been nearly 50 seasons since I first stepped out of the all leather boot and into the plastic shells that are ubiquitous today. One thing that is for sure id that most of us are reluctant to change much about our boots until time and use has basically left them unresponsive to our current needs. Replacing the entire boot can be put off by visiting a qualified boot shop, one that can analyze your set up and make a tweak here and there and keep your boots relevant to the current you season after season. If you haven't had a tweak in a while, what are you waiting for?
Q & A's
I read something about a ski boot balancing clinic and wondered about that. My ski boots are very old and I am fairly challenging to fit, so this would be something to think about.
If your ski boots are very old, in all likelihood you will need to upgrade. No matter 'the grade' of boot you own, you can expect them to only function properly for a finite amount of time.
Eventually, the plastic will become brittle and not flex properly, the liner will pack out over time and the foot-bed has a limited life expectancy as it is the part of the boot closest to our foot and should mirror your foot. Even if the foot-bed doesn't break down, over the years, our arches tend to collapse (Gravity) and so to have that foot-bed optimized to your foot, over time, it needs to be 'tweaked' at the very minimum.
Once all is said and done and the "fit" is proper, the Better Balance Structural Alignment Screen determines whether the way you stand in your boots is optimal to balancing on your skis. Think of the effort it requires to balance on a bike and then how the properties of some bikes allow you to just balance on it right away while others are comparatively "shaky". This is because each of us has unique balancing preferences.
With ski boots, it is very much the same. The trick is to get you, your ski boot and the ski just right so that balancing is as effortless as riding a bike. On the Alignment Screen, we observe how you find your skiing balance in your boots on your skis, and as required, we can offer the prescription to "tweak" your boots if necessary to make them "dazzle" for you.
So what happens to a skier who simply goes about trying to find their balance and is left to their own devices? For those where no tweaking is necessary, this small percentage of people will eventually become proficient and pick up the art of skiing very naturally.
As most of us aren't lucky enough to have perfect alignment, we will need to learn to adapt to our anomalies (misalignment). This is when "bad habits" can develop and through this misfortune, are faced with a much longer learning curve compared to someone who has taken the time to be assessed as perfectly aligned to their equipment.